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The Democratic Party is being ridiculed as the party of "open borders" after its presidential contenders competed with each other in debate to see who could most forcefully renounce enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.

Such claims actually do something of a disservice to the open-borders position, which was the country's de facto position for much of its history.

Until at least the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), America didn't really have much of an immigration policy; just about anyone who could get here could stay here. We became a "nation of immigrants" not just because so many wanted to come to the land where streets were "paved with gold" but also because those already here made little effort to keep them out.

There are also a fair number among us who still believe that the nation that owns the future will be the one (hopefully ours) that proves best able to attract the talented and ambitious from around the world ("human capital," in economic-speak). At the risk of uttering a heresy in our populist age, globalization is here to stay and it includes the movement of people across borders nearly as much as the flow of goods and services.

Immigration is our biggest problem, according to surveys of American voters, but it is also a problem that only prosperous and free countries have to worry about.

Nobody wants to move to Iran, China or Russia; that so many still wish to come to America should tell us something both important and good. The radical left depiction of our country as a hell-hole of oppression, sexism, and racism apparently isn't shared by all those people outside our borders struggling to get inside them.

Whether a policy of open borders can still work as well as it did in the 19th century, when newcomers arrived often with just their dreams and the shirts on their backs and were left largely on their own to make out the best they could (without the welfare state and its dependency-inducing blandishments to greet them), when American elites embraced "melting pot" assimilation rather than identity-politics separatism, and when so many of the actual immigrants were crossing oceans instead of just dry creek beds is, of course, a relevant question about which reasonable people can differ.

Still, however one answers that question, what the Democrats were offering up on those debate stages wasn't so much an open-borders policy but a giant neon sign with the words "break our laws and enter our country illegally, please." Democrats are no longer just disagreeing with the Trump administration on how to best address the border problem; they are now doing everything they can to discredit the very idea of borders and laws pertaining to them.

Prior to Miami there was a growing suspicion that Democrats weren't all that interested in discouraging illegal immigration; after Miami there is no doubt that they are openly encouraging it.

As Frank Miele succinctly put it, "Almost unanimously, the candidates said that anyone who gets into our country illegally should be handed an official apology; a path to citizenship; and an IOU good for free health care, a free college education, and a good-paying job."

The sheer cynicism of it all is breathtaking--Democratic leaders have become so attached to the idea that their party can acquire future electoral dominance by corralling the Hispanic vote that they increasingly embrace positions that effectively erase the distinction between American citizens on the one hand and those who are in the country illegally on the other, and promise to advance the interests of the latter at the expense (literally and figuratively) of the former.

But for a future Democratic president working with a future Democratic Congress to enact a program of amnesty accompanied by an easy path to citizenship that would supposedly add tens of millions of voters to the party's registration rolls, Democrats have to walk an exceedingly fine line--obstructing any efforts to impede the flow of illegals across the border while at the same time not being too obvious about it in a way that offends current American citizens.

Put differently, unfettered immigration could guarantee Democratic dominance in the future only if the voters don't figure out the game they are playing in the present. To get from here to there, Democrats have to at least pretend to believe in the idea of borders and immigration laws.

But what we saw on the stage those two nights in Miami, under the glare of the television lights and with the inevitable pressures of getting furthest left fastest, blew that strategy to pieces and amounted to perhaps the most dramatic act of political self-immolation in American electoral history.

As if abortion on demand at taxpayer expense, reparations for slavery, a return to forced busing (!!), doing away with private health insurance, and embracing democratic socialism weren't enough.

It represents a bizarre new electoral strategy: Figure out the most unpopular possible position on key issues and all rush to embrace it.

Whoever among the pathetic gaggle of hand-raisers in Miami ultimately wins the dubious prize, the Democrats have already pulled off the unprecedented achievement of losing an election 16 months in advance.

To Donald Trump, no less.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 07/08/2019

Print Headline: The welcome mat

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